Best Things to Do in December in Tucson

10 Best Holiday Attractions in Tucson to Bask in Southwestern Glow

Winter is the high season in Tucson, thanks to the city's great weather and unique Southwestern cultural attractions. The city comes alive from November through January with seasonal events full of holiday cheer.

One of Tucson's biggest winter events is the Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair, which attracts thousands of holiday shoppers to the city's colorful Fourth Avenue District. More than 300 vendors set up shop on the avenue, with entertainment from street buskers and jugglers adding to the festivities.

For a uniquely Southwestern holiday light display, head over to Tohono Chul Park for Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul. For six special evenings, Tohono Chul is transformed into a winter wonderland complete with a million holiday lights and a special desert snowman.

Another great destination for holiday lights is the Tucson Botanical Garden, which hosts the annual Luminaria Nights at Tucson Botanical Garden. The garden grounds glow with the lights from traditional Southwestern paper lanterns. There are also twinkling lights, live music, and local food trucks dishing out holiday treats. 

For a fun, family-friendly showcase of holiday spirit, head to downtown Tucson for the Annual Downtown Parade of Lights. The parade features a cavalcade of floats wrapped in twinkling holiday lights.



The Winterhaven Festival of Lights is one of the longest-running holiday traditions in Tucson, and one of the longest running light festivals of its kind in the country. This leafy residential neighborhood in Tucson features mature Aleppo pines wrapped up in twinkly lights, and brilliant displays of holiday spirit. The festival is free and open to the public (the residents of Winterhaven have hosted the festival for generations, and consider it their gift to the people of Tucson). Entrances to the Festival are on Ft. Lowell, Tucson, Country Club, and Prince - there are no official parking areas - but the best way to enjoy the festival is by making a reservation on a hayride wagon, a bus trolley, a pedal-powered group bike. Or, of course, you can also see the lights on foot.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Winterhaven Festival of Lights is one of the oldest residential festival lights in the country - and a beautiful display of Tucson neighborhood spirit.

Patricia's expert tip: One of the best way to experience the Winterhaven Festival of Lights is by reserving a ride on a hayride wagon.

Read more about Winterhaven Festival of Lights →

The Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is one of the biggest arts and shopping events on the annual Tucson calendar. The event, which takes place over the course of one weekend in mid-December, brings together more than 200 arts and craft booths, plus food vendors, and dozens of musicians, jugglers, and other street performers. For the kids, there is a free hands-on art pavilion where the little ones can explore and create. The fair also features food and product demonstrations, face painting, chair massages, and balloons. Busy Fourth Avenue is shut down for the weekend to make room for the festivities, which is a busy destination for holiday shoppers looking for unique art pieces.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is one of the largest annual shopping events in Tucson.

Patricia's expert tip: Bring your holiday shopping list. The winter street fair is a great place to find unique gifts.

Read more about Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair →

Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block

El Nacimiento translates to The Birth. Located in La Casa Cordova, the which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest adobe home left in Downtown Tucson. Historians believe the home predates the Gadsden Purchase. The nativity scene was created in the 1970's by Maria Luisa Tena. This masterpiece is a must-see art exhibit will keep you entranced. Not a simple nativity scene with a manger and some livestock, this is an entire hillside scene filled with lights, tree branches, angels and many, many buildings. Currently, El Nacimiento and La Casa Cordova is not wheelchair accessible.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: El Nacimiento is the longest running nativity scene in Tucson.

Patricia's expert tip: Be sure bring your walking shoes to take advantage of any other exhibits currently available while visiting El Nacimiento in La Casa Cordova.

Read more about Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block →


Tchaikovsky's classic holiday ballet The Nutcracker is translated to the Tucson of the 1880s for Tucson Regional Ballet's special presentation of A Southwest Nutcracker. The ballet retains the story and magical elements of the original, but brings the tale to territorial Arizona, where coyotes, rattlesnakes, and a Western cavalry take center state. The ballet, which is presented at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, also features the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Professionally designed sets and stunning costumes make this an annual Tucson holiday experience to share with the family. A Southwest Nutcracker offers a new way to experience a holiday classic.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A Southwest Nutcracker is one of the country's most unique adaptations of the holiday ballet classic.

Patricia's expert tip: Kids will love this southwestern rendition of the Tchaikovsky ballet classic.

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Zoolights at Reid Park Zoo is an annual Tucson holiday tradition that transforms the zoo into a winter wonderland. The family-friendly event features twinkling lights and lighted animal sculptures throughout the zoo grounds, along with nightly visits from Santa Claus himself. Guests can also enjoy live entertainment nightly through December 23rd, along with cookies, hot cocoa and other holiday snacks. There will also be camel rides available. Most animals won't be visible during the event, but you can rest assured there will still be plenty to see and hear. Zoolights offers two post-Christmas "encore" nights, usually held on December 26 and 27.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Zoo Lights is a family-friendly event featuring lighted animals sculptures, live music and nightly visits from Santa.

Patricia's expert tip: Children under two are free.

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The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson is a 15,560 square foot facility that likes to think of itself as a miniature time machine where you can step back in time--in miniature form. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy a self-guided tour through the various rooms, which represent different lands and times, real and imagined. The museum is home to over 275 miniature houses and room boxes. No matter what your inspiration, everyone in your group is likely to find a favorite room and time period. This museum of miniatures is perfect for kids, but adults are also likely to enjoy a tour of this offbeat museum. From November 26th through January 5th, the museum is decorated for the holidays.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Wee Winter Wonderland decorates the museum for the holiday season.

Patricia's expert tip: Youth, senior and military discounts are available. Children 3 and under are free. Admission to the Wee Winter Wonderland gets admission into the whole museum.

Read more about The Mini-Time Machine, A Museum of Miniatures →

Set in the historic San Xavier Mission south of downtown Tucson, the Christmas at San Xavier Annual Concert celebrates one of the Southwest's most historic gems and the warmth of the holiday season. The annual holiday concert usually includes pieces by Bach, Schubert & Fauré, and a helping of holiday favorites. The concert features the Sons of Orpheus and the Tucson Boys Chorus for an aural feast of Christmas classics. Seats for the concerts are priced at around $100, but most of the ticket price is tax deductible. Funds raised through the concert benefit the restoration of the historic mission. Tickets can be reserved through Patronato San Xavier.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Christmas at San Xavier Mission is a one-of-a-kind Christmas concert featuring the city's best local chorale groups performing at the historic Tucson mission.

Patricia's expert tip: Tickets to this event are limited, so reserve your seats early. When tickets sell out, tickets to a rehearsal performance may be available.

Read more about Christmas at San Xavier Annual Concert →

Every December, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra puts on a holiday pops spectacular at the Tucson Music Hall in downtown. The holiday concert features all of your favorite Christmas masterpieces and holiday carols. The family-friendly concert is the ideal way to introduce young children to the symphony and ring in the season. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra tells the story of Christmas through song and dance. At the end, Santa pays a visit and spreads his cheer. The Magic of Christmas is an annual Tucson favorite for anyone who enjoys the spirit of the season. The event is ideal for classical music enthusiasts, as well as lovers of holiday music.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Magic of Christmas is the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Pops concert, celebrating holiday music in a family-friendly format.

Patricia's expert tip: Bring the kids. This is a family-friendly music event.

Read more about Magic of Christmas: Tucson Symphony Orchestra Holiday Special →

More than a million lights transform the scenic Sonoran Desert at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson every winter. Over the course of three consecutive weekends in December, the grounds at this botanical garden turn into a winter wonderland, with a desert-themed twist. Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul Park features live music, holiday treats, and shopping at the gift shop and art gallery. As a special plus, a desert-inspired snowman is on display nightly. Tickets are available online or can be purchased at the admissions window. Each ticket is good through the event, which goes on for six evening every season.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul Park provides visitors with a desert-themed holiday wonderland.

Patricia's expert tip: The garden has a pretty good bistro, which will be offering a holiday-themed buffet during the Holiday nights event. Advance reservations are required for the buffet.

Read more about Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul →

Tucson Botanical Gardens is transformed into a magical wonderland in December during its annual Luminaria Nights. For the first two weekends in December, 3,000 candle-lit luminarias and 22 Korean lanterns luminarias are set out on the grounds of the garden, transforming the garden into a unique and magical holiday display. There are also twinkling lights, trees decorated with hand-made ornaments, and live music. There are also local food trucks on hand to feed visitors during the chilly desert evening. Luminaria Nights at Tucson Botanical Gardens has become an annual tradition for locals and out-of-town visitors looking for a truly Southwestern-style celebration of the holiday season.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Luminaria Nights at the Tucson Botanical Garden blend the warmth of the season with a traditional Southwestern paper lantern display.

Patricia's expert tip: Pre-sale tickets to Luminaria nights are available in November. Price will go up if purchased the day of the event.

Read more about Luminaria Nights at Tucson Botanical Garden →


Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.